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Morrison gung-ho about proving himself to new team

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Don't try telling Logan Morrison these are only Spring Training games. That Cactus League results count for nothing. That games in February and March will be long forgotten as soon as the calendar flips to April.

The new Mariners first baseman and designated hitter cranked out two hits in each of his first two games this spring, putting up a cool .800 batting average that includes a double and two RBIs. And nobody had a bigger smile on their face afterward.

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"It was just fun to be out there playing in a Spring Training game," Morrison said. "The stadium is beautiful, the grass and dirt and all that stuff, just the feeling of competing against somebody else. It's what you play for, you know? Yeah, it was Spring Training games. But it was fun.

"I probably won't ever take a Spring Training game for granted again after those two years."

Those two years were Morrison's last two seasons with the Marlins, the team that drafted him in the 22nd round in 2005 out of Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City and then watched him develop into one of baseball's best young prospects while breaking in with 23 home runs and 72 RBIs as a rookie outfielder in 2011.

Then came the health issues, with Morrison getting just 15 at-bats in Spring Training 2012 as he tried to come back too quickly from patella tendon surgery in his knee, then missing all of last spring following a second surgery on the same knee.

Morrison's numbers and rising-star reputation plummeted as his playing time and production were limited in back-to-back seasons. He hit .230 with 11 homers and 36 RBIs in 93 games in 2012 and .242 with six homers and 36 RBIs in 85 games last year.

The Mariners think there might be more in there now that Morrison is regaining his health. Morrison thinks so as well, though he's careful not to put the weight of the world on this upcoming season.

"I think every year is important," he said. "So, yeah, I think this season is important, but I don't want to make it this big heavy thing. I just want to play and show what I can do."

Morrison is something of a free spirit, a guy who keeps things loose and loves to interact with teammates in lighthearted ways and with fans on his popular @CupofLoMo Twitter account, which has more than 122,000 followers.

Manager Lloyd McClendon has little interest in Morrison's healthy following, but he has a great deal of interest in Morrison's own health. The new skipper has limited the 26-year-old to first-base duties in workouts and designated hitter at-bats in his first two games, wanting to make sure his knee regains full strength before pushing him further.

At some point this spring, McClendon plans to move Morrison into the mix in the corner outfield positions he played with the Marlins prior to his surgeries. But for now, he's backing up Justin Smoak at first base and looking like a strong contender for at-bats at the DH spot while showing some prodigious power in batting practices.

"I will slow-play it with him," McClendon said. "I just want to make sure he's healthy. I know he feels great, but he's a very gung-ho type of young man and I'm going to pull the reins back on him to make sure that he continues to move at a good pace."

McClendon loves the aggressive spirit. Gung-ho works fine for the skipper. But the Mariners want to see Morrison play it smart and not feel the need to impress them with his work ethic now, only to wind up back on the disabled list when the games do start to count.

"I'm just going to help him a little bit," McClendon said with a smile.

After four and a half months on the disabled list over the past two seasons, Morrison understands. Though he does insist the knee really does finally feel fine.

"Obviously I want to be out there playing every day," he said. "I want to be hitting extra and doing all that stuff. But given the past history, you kind of have to pace yourself and realize it is still February. I think it's more of keeping it to where I don't feel anything. There's no pain or anything in the knee."

As for what position he sees himself filling this year?

"Baseball player," Morrison said. "I don't care. DH, first base, outfield, it doesn't matter, as long as I'm in the game helping my team win. If we're competing and in a race and doing all the things we need to do, then I'm happy."

And for now? There is no race in Spring Training, which is merely a warmup session for the coming marathon of the regular season. But for Morrison, there's plenty of reason to be happy now as well.

Yeah, it's early. But he's healthy. And he's hitting. So far, so good. Two games, four hits, an .800 batting average. What's not to like?

"Two hits a day keeps the doctor away," Morrison said with a laugh.

And that's exactly where he wants things to stay.

Greg Johns is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog.

Seattle Mariners, Logan Morrison